travelreview

Review: France

These are some things I learned or thought was useful/interesting to know when traveling through France:

  • Dining out is really expensive (eating in general, is expensive), easy to-go foods are hard to find (aside from sandwiches from bakeries), street food (besides sweet crepes) is nonexistent, it’s difficult to eat out of a supermarket (they don’t really sell anything you can make without having to use a kitchen)… Basically, you lose when it comes to food in France. Baguette (1 euro) is the only affordable thing you’ll find if you’re on a tight budget.
  • That being said, unless you are ready to dine out (that will cost you an arm), it’s impossible to explore French cuisine. Your best bet is to hope that you’ll meet someone that would cook.
  • I’m just going to put it out there. The rumors are true, most French people do eat very little. Breakfast usually consists of a light pastry or something sweet and most meals are “French-portioned”. This is something that might take some time to get used to, if you are used to big heavy meals (like myself).
  • On the upside, French wine is ridiculously cheap and delicious. For 3 euro or less, you can get yourself good quality wine (in supermarkets, of course).
  • Be prepared to pay for everything in Paris. All entry fee is expensive. And Parisians working for the tourist venues are horribly rude and unhelpful.
  • Most French people consider Paris as its own separate country. Don’t think that you’ve seen France if you’ve never left Paris. People hate hearing that.
  • When in Paris, don’t fall for the scams and to the gypsies. Remember that it is everywhere and that pick-pocketers are common. Read about the scam we faced in Paris: http://367daysofloveaffair.tumblr.com/post/106058380168/day-30
  • The average English level in France is noticeably lower compared to their neighboring countries such as Germany, Netherlands or Belgium. Don’t assume that you will find someone who can speak English.
  • That being said, the French love their language. Even if they know English, a lot of French people don’t like to speak it or admit to knowing any other language other than French. This can get really frustrating at times, so prepare yourself.
  • Smoking is banned in restaurants and bars.
  • Free public bathrooms exist but not very common. Use toilettes inside businesses.
  • Internet cafes and laundromats are not the cheapest. When doing laundry, make sure to buy laundry soap at the vending machine. The machines don’t come with it.
  • The Basque people are very proud of their history, culture, food and language. Recognize the difference, some get offended when called French.
  • It is cheap to cross over to Spain from southern France (Basque region) via bus/tram. From Bayonne, you can take the ATCRB – counseil general bus line to Hendaye (3 euros), then transfer to Euskotren (1.55 euro) that will take you straight in to northern Spain. The tram will look like this:

Euskotren

Information that will save you money:

  • France is notorious for its outrageously expensive trains. Buses aren’t much better nor available for the most part. When it comes to transportation, I have one word: http://www.covoiturage.fr/ We saved hundreds of dollars by utilizing this safe and dependable website. Literally.
  • France is generally hitch-hiking friendly, especially in the region of Brittany. So use that thumb!
  • Carrefour is the biggest and cheapest supermarket chain in France. Leader Price, Lidl or Intermarché are also good choices.
  • Carry your passport with you if you are under 25. Some sightseeing venues will give discount.

Helpful French words to know:

  • Fromage = Cheese
  • Jambon = Ham
  • Poulet = Chicken
  • Sortie = Exit
  • Combien = Cost
  • Marron = Chestnut
  • Lardons = Bacon/Pork fat
  • Champignon = Mushroom
  • Chaud = Hot
  • Froid = Cold
  • Gauche = Left
  • Droite = Right
  • Pousser = Push
  • Pull = Tirer
  • Boeuf = Beef
  • Oeuf = Egg
  • Poissons = Fish
  • Pain = Bread
  • Cafe = Coffee
  • Biere = Beer
  • Sante = Cheers

Written by: Zoe Kim

"Go to Pai" they said, "It's amazing".

If you have already booked to go to Pai and it is non-refundable, perhaps you shouldn’t read this! Otherwise… here we go… I will relay my experience of Pai in comparison to the recommendation/brochure special I received from 6+ people who have been… 

"The views on the journey up there are amazing" - YES, travelling up a mountain for 3 hours, the views ARE spectacular. However, one will be unable to enjoy said views due to the unfocused vision you experience from the inevitable car sickness from making 746 - YES SEVEN HUNDRED AND FORTY SIX - turns up a mountain. These views will be further hindered by your drivers best efforts to get there in minimal time to make maximum profit AKA: putting your life in more danger than it should be! Finally these views are made less special by the repeated heaving of the passenger in front of you who repeatedly vomits into a nappy bag for the entire three hour journey! 

"The people are amazing" - To which people they are referring I have no idea? I can only assume they are referring to the visitors and not the locals. As to spot a local in this town is like finding Wally in a page of red and blue crazy-ness - damn near impossible and gives you an unnecessary headache! The “people” (visitors - travellers (as they call themselves) holiday makers) I came into contact with were rather mind numbingly irritating! Every single person hosted the same characteristics… bare feet or jesus style sandals, dreadlocks or long tangled messy hair, elephant pants (of course), over use of the words “dude” and “man” and of course an excessive use of any and every drug they could find.

"You don’t feel like you are in Thailand any more" -  This one is true. I no longer felt like I was in Thailand. I felt like I was in an island of “individual” “free minded” - conformists congregating and “experiencing” Thailand. AKA invading a small town, bringing drugs and god knows that else, and ruining the beauty of the place these people live in. God knows they can’t move, nobody is going to get onto that bus unless they HAVE to!

"Stay at the CIrcus School" they said "It’s awesome" - There is some logic to this one. Awesome…..

A

Waste of well

Earned money

Spent 

On below

Mediocre 

Estate

Other than this, I fail to see their understanding of the word “awesome”. I arrived in town to find no local taxis or public transportation. The Hostel was 40/50 minute walk UPHILL off road down an uneven dirt track! Thankfully I could ride a moped and rented one, others however were not so fortunate and had to walk almost an hour in blazing sun to find their accommodation. I drove the death road (made only for dirt bikes not a 120CC scooter to find my record of my booking despite having my booking reference number. He rudely took my money before taking me to my “bungalow” -THE JOKE-. With 3 bags and a good steep downhill walk to my “bungalow” the young athletic man did not once offer to carry anything,despite several times stopping for me to catch up. He gestured to the door and handed my key before disappearing up the hill! Chivalry must not have been his forte. Up 3 unsafe wooden tubes constructed into 5ft steps I dragged my bags dangerously, nto my new “home” for the next 2 nights! I can honestly say, I would rather have slept in a hammock or a tent!

Inside, the bedding was disgusting, and had obviously not been cleaned since the moped itself was invented. The “floor” - random unstable and weak wicker strips - had a 1ft x 1ft hole in the middle of the “room”! The light was temperamental and the pug socket sparked dangerously, especially for a house made of wood! I feel as though the 3 little pigs built a more stable residence than this hostel did!…. There was a 4 inch gap between the “floor” and the “walls” of the “bungalow” (would have been generous to call it a hut really. 

The bathroom.. 4 toilets, 4 showers between 50+ huts plus 2 dormitory rooms of 12 people were down another STEEP hill a good 2 minutes walk. They weren’t cleaned in the whole time I stayed and the water was never ever even approaching warm! 

Safe to say I did not intend to spend much time in this except for necessary sleeping. How silly of me… I wouldn’t be getting any sleep! Music blaring from various “bungalows” until at least 4am, a strong smell of cannabis and god knows what else being consumed. The temperature on the top of a mountain at night isn’t the highest. Made ever so worse by sleeping in a breezy old wicket basket suspended on a half broken wicker table. I was freezing. Even in my leggings, my trousers, a top, a shirt and under a blanket AND my towel… I was shaking with ice cold feet. No sleep was to be had in those 2 nights!

"I want to go back there for sure" - Not if you paid me in gold. OK that is a little strong. Fly me there in a straight line, find me ACTUAL accommodation with solid walls and a floor, and get rid of the drifters for the 2 days I am there, and I would consider it.

"I never wanted to leave" - The ONLY thing that kept me from leaving within my first 5 hours was the emotional scar left from the horrific bus ride up there, the migraine, nausea and dizziness that came as a result and exhaustion. By the time I left, I was more than happy to board to bus of death. Honestly.. I would have taken the Harry Potter night bus rather than this thing… it looked much more comfortable.

So… I can hear you asking… There must be something? Something good about this place that attracts so many people. I can imagine, upon being first discovered (as I have heard often said about Koh Phi Phi Islands) it was a beautiful location with a perfectly small village town formed and functioning in the surroundings of some of natures most beautiful creations. And yes, all of that surrounding beauty remains:

The Natural Hot Springs 

The Canyon 

Memorial Bridge

The waterfalls and off road jungle

However, the painful truth is that, littered with western travellers in a ratio of 60 travellers to 1 Thai resident, the gem that I am sure Pai once was has diminished into another pit-stop on a tourist trail of travellers and “soul searchers”. They refer to Pai as a place people fall in love. I find it sad to see a place that was once undoubtedly so rich and beautiful now transformed into a place tailor made for the travelling westerners. I grieve for the people who live there, who lose their paradise for the western people in search of their own slice of paradise.

(I understand that in order for me to even see these places, they must be well known. But, I live in a small town in Thailand, and our presence here does not affect the Thai community’s way of living. Most people who travel do little research or make very little effort to learn anything about the culture and or language. The areas are forced by number into changing to accommodate these people. I met a man who had been travelling Thailand for months, and had never understood or used to Wai. To spend so much time in a country and yet be so limited in your knowledge and understanding of a country. Why really travel it at all if not to learn)?

My goal is not to visit these places. my goal is to visit what I consider “real Thailand”. Places run and populated by 98% Thai people. Places with unspoiled beauty in nature and culture alike. And if I am lucky enough, to fall upon these gems, I solemnly swear I will never name them on social media, I will simply write “Thai island” in a bid to reserve their identity. In the hope that the locals can hold on to their home just a little while longer. For sharing their land with me, I will hold their secret for them. For I pray, that the whirlwind of tourists and travellers alike will not come in and take another community’s lifestyle away.

Finding Your Perfect Tent

No matter how affordable a night in a hostel can lead you to believe, the truth of the matter is that it all adds up in the end. One of the best ways I find, in cutting budget, is to buy a tent that can take care of most of your sleeping needs. Depending on where you decide to travel and in what weather, what you would look for in a tent will change – best bet for me was to look for a four-season, durable tent that would ensure my freedom to all my travel destinations in any given season.

When you start looking for a tent you will find that some are categorized by seasons, such as two-season, three-season or four-season. The difference between the number of seasons basically represent the structural strength of the tent, whether it can handle snow or night time heat… etc. In another words, two-season tents are the most basic type that are mainly used for warmer weather and four-season tents – durable in both warm and cold weather.

You can then specify what you are looking for, whether it be a one-person or a two-persons use, its overall size and weight, etc.  Best places to start searching for your perfect tent are online outlets, such as REI-OUTLET.COM, or any outdoor gear specializing stores. Once you feel comfortable enough about exactly what you are looking for, you are ready to narrow down your choices.

In my case, I wanted a four-season, two-persons use, compact and ultralight in weight that I could realistically carry with me through long days on the road. The problem was that most of my research proved unaffordable with my budget. Most tents in the category that I was looking for was easily $400-$600 (two and three-season tents are generally $100-$300) and I was getting convinced that I would have to settle for a three-season or less if I wanted some type of shelter. Then, I found the perfect tent that had my name written all over it – for about $225. These are some ways you can also find a great deal.

1. Start early. The sooner you decide to buy a tent and know what you are looking for the better chance you will have in finding a good deal. I started six-months before my departure. I’d suggest an even earlier start, even if you don’t know for sure what you want, at least get familiar with what you are looking at and pay attention to the products that received good reviews.

2. Always keep an eye out for ‘deal of the day’ or clearance sale in your local outdoor gear shops, online and craigslist. I know many people who grabbed amazing deals by being prepared.

3. It’s all about timing. At the end of each season, most places have huge sales – as for a four-season (or any cold weather) tent, some will go on sale at the end of winter season, when most people do not look for a tent that is durable in winter or at the end of summer season, when most people stop camping all together.

4. Take advantage if you are near a small town or areas that have easy access to hiking. When a shop within a small town is depending most of their annual sales over the few months that are most tourist-heavy or hiking-heavy, they usually have unbeatable sales in efforts to sell off as much as possible before their sales drop completely.

MSR Hubba Hubba HP

The tent I bought for my trip is called the MSR Hubba Hubba HP – two person, four-season tent. It weighs roughly about 4lbs, packs down very small (to about the size of my forearm) and is super easy to set up and take down. It originally goes for about $450, but with the four tips I shared with you I was able to find one for almost half its price of $225.

MSR Hubba Hubba Footprint

  • In order to elongate the life of your tent, it is a good idea to look into getting a footprint (or a piece of tyvek), a waterproof sheet that will go between the tent and ground, helping your tent stay dry and protected from weather and tear. Since my tent is a MSR Hubba Hubba, I bought a footprint made for its type MSR Hubba Hubba footprint.

Total I spent:

tent $225 + footprint $30

= Total $255

Written by: Zoe Kim

Tour Review: G Adventures, Australia in Style

This 21 day trip started in Sydney, travelled up the east coast to Byron Bay, Whitsunday Islands, Cairns, and Port Douglas, then moved on to the Outback traveling through Alice Springs, Uluru, Coober Pedy, Port Augusta, Adelaide, Grampians National Park, Warrnambool, and Melbourne. That’s a whole lot to see in three weeks, but it’s a perfect introduction to Australia, and I felt like I got the most out of my experience.

I thought this trip was fantastic. It included quite a few fun activities like surfing lessons, yachting, and hiking through national parks, and there were a few really great optional activities like snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and star gazing in the Outback. I highly recommend all these activities. We also got to see koalas, kangaroos, and emus.

Activity level: although this trip has a physical grading of 2, some days were much more like a 3 (hiking, snorkeling, surfing, sailing) - so keep that in mind - I loved it, but if you don’t want a lot of activity, this may not be the trip for you.

Trip Specifics: Our CEO, Nick, was great. He was knowledgeable, down to earth, fun, organized, and helpful. The hotels were fantastic, especially on the east coast portion. There were more motels in the Outback portion, but that’s to be expected, as the areas are less populated. There were also many included meals that were quite good. This is a “comfort” level trip and you really do feel the added cushiness compared to the “standard” level tours.

There were only 6 of us on the east coast portion and 8 in the Outback. Most travelers were in there 20s and 30s and were from Canada, US, England, and Ireland. It was a really great group that got along well.

My only complaint is that there was too much driving time in the Outback. Driving is really the only way it’s possible to go to all the places we visited, but it was a lot. If I could design my own trip, I would have flown from Uluru to Adelaide and skipped the odd opal mining town of
Coober Pedy - sure, it was interesting in a “been there, done that” sort of way, but for me, it wasn’t worth the drive to get there. The Outback is exactly as you would imagine - vast semi-arid brush, simple roadhouses and motels, but well worth seeing - I just could have spent a little less time checking it out :-)

Overall, this was an amazing trip. I absolutely loved Australia and the scenery changed so much from region to region, that you really do have to spend a significant amount of time there to see it all. From the big cities of Sydney and Melbourne, to the laid back beach town of Byron Bay, to the breathtaking views in the Red Center, the wine country in Claire Valley, and the unbelievable Great Ocean Road - this is a scenic trip like no other!

Day 59

We were up and out the door by 9am to make our way to Spain. We caught the local bus that took us to the south end of France, to a town called Hendaye, then took a tram that connected to San Sebastian-Donostia. The entire travel took about two hours and we were finally here, in Spain, one of my top five destinations in life. People were instantly louder, laughed obnoxiously, shorter, faster, closer, the women were decked out in gold and sported red highlights, nobody understood English and strangers disregarded any personal space. We were definitely not in France anymore.

View of the streets, San Sebastian

San Sebastian was warm and sunny to our arrival. We wandered in efforts to find a map, failed, then started walking towards the sun in hopes to find the street we were looking for. Within minutes we found the street, it helped that the entire town is barely 2km round, unloaded our bags at the guesthouse we would be spending tonight at and walked in to the center of old San Sebastian.

Panoramic view of San Sebastian

The weather was beautiful, a bit windy but still sunny and Ashley and I walked in and out of old San Sebastian, the only part of San Sebastian really worth looking (rest is relatively new), then walked up to San Sebastian’s giant Jesus statue, Monte Urgull, which marked the highest viewing point in the city. The Jesus statue looked down scornfully over the San Sebastian’s romantic beach, glistening in all its sunlight, a classic neo-gothic church standing stout in the distance.

Good roads in San Sebastian

We walked back into town right as their lunch time was picking up and watched all the bars pull out their house variety of tapas for their customers to enjoy alongside an afternoon cigarette. By sunset, our feet were sore, stomachs were empty and eyelids getting heavier by the minute. Although things were generally a bit cheaper compared to France, we were still out of luck in finding anything affordable to eat in this touristic beach town. We settled for some take out fries then returned to our room with some Keller lager to call in a night.

Tapas tapas!

After a good long shower, I was finally sick of my growing pain – my hair. I borrowed the guesthouse’s scissors and started trimming away at it, resulting much shorter length then I had imagined, hah. I must have accidentally cut off about eight inches when I just meant to cut off two. How did that happen, I don’t even know, apparently I can’t measure very well. Ashley looked at the trash bin full of my hair and asked, “how long did you think two inches were anyway?”. But oh well, the hair will grow and I get to save on shampoo so I’m quite alright with that!

San Sebastian

Tomorrow we will be heading to Bilbao. Although our stay was short in San Sebastian, I’m glad we stopped by to enjoy this small slice paradise. I can only imagine what a party scene this town would turn into during festive summer nights.

Walked: 12.5 Miles

La Coruna - Spain..

Was meant to post tho review a couple of day ago.

La Coruna is an interesting mix of pristine beaches along the Spanish coast line surrounded by a concrete jungle of derelict 60 style apartments. Walking around the coast and through the busy streets you get the feeling this city used to be a thriving mix of tourism and urban cool when the likes of the fashion label Zara first opened there doors in the 70’s. However due to Spain’s economic problems the entire place feelings like its glory days have come and gone with the entire place needing a good clean and breath of fresh air - however I have a feeling that is not going to happen..
Any town which prides its tourism campaign on having a the words oldest working lighthouse and neglect to maintain there basic infrastructure is not a place that is going to continue thriving..
In a place that has the potential to be an amazing creative hub for Spain, fails to tick many boxes…. I ha good mint ice cream here though.
3/10

Angelic plum blossoms, Geisha streets, a magnificent gold-plated temple and an elegantly decorated boutique hotel. Aww… Kyoto, what more can I ask for?!?
Visit my blog at ilovebunny.net to read how I lived my wanderlust dream through one of the most famous Asian metropolises, Kyoto. #travelreview #igtravel #tripadvisor

Day 58

Virgin Mary on the rock

In the morning we took Liane’s advice to take a local bus to visit a nearby beach town, Biarritz, only twenty minutes away from Bayonne. The weather was nice again and it only got brighter as the day progressed. By the time we reached Biarritz, it was white sand and clear skies. We enjoyed our walk to see the famous rock of Virgin Mary, walked along the coast and through the local living quarters where Basque architecture smoothly blended in with the ocean shore.

Saint Jean de Luz

At mid-afternoon, we were able to find a bus to Saint Jean de Luz, a town just south from Bayonne that we had initially planned to visit on our way to San Sebastian tomorrow. Thinking that visiting Saint Jean de Luz today may open up some possibilities of crossing over to Spain more easily, we hopped on the bus and arrived at town center within thirty minutes. I absolutely adored Saint Jean de Luz. Although it is very close to Biarritz and is considered as another beach town, the atmosphere was nothing else but totally proud to be Basque. Basque symbol was engraved in almost every building, non-Basque architecture was hard to find, Basque historical pieces outlined the city, gift stores sold nothing but Basque items, the bakeries specialized in Basque cakes and the men wore their Basqueberet everywhere.

Basque symbol and the ocean

We stopped in and dipped into the Basque staple dessert, Gateau-Basque Cerise andCreme, which were absolutely to die for, smelled Basque cheese and walked along the coast then on their pedestrian-only shopping street. You could almost smell holiday in the air now: gaudily decorated Christmas trees in every major corner, Santa Claus statues greeting you at every store, Christmas cakes sold as ‘Today’s Special’, children dressed as Rudolphs, people hurrying down the street with bags of gifts just to buy more, more, more… Sometimes I wonder if people even know what gift is going to who. I bet not, most of the times, Christmas has become such a marketing phenomenon where all the big corporations get to cash in their end-of-the-year bonus check by convincing the public to buy more and more useless crap to shower everyone they know in the name of love.

Basque architecture

I know I’ve never really been a big fan of commercialized holidays but truthfully, I’d much rather gift something when it’s not Christmas, just as I find things that I’d like to give someone because it has personal value and not because the society tells me that I have to. I see beauty in that sort of rebellion.

Saint Jean de Luz

By the time we returned to Liane’s, it was dark and nearly 8pm. Liane and Julien cooked up delicious duck meat and indulged us in goat cheese with cherry jam, followed with Gateau Basque that they had bought for us! It was such a sweet gesture and we enjoyed the dessert together as we shared many drunken stories, couchsurfing experiences, love pursuits and learned more about the Basque culture – drenched in laughter. We said our goodbyes tonight instead of tomorrow morning since we planned to leave their place early. Tomorrow we will be going to San Sebastian, also known as Donostia in Basque, our very first stop in Spain!

Walked: 14 Miles

Streets of Saint Jean de Luz

Day 5

Misty Friday morning, and it is our last day in Amsterdam. We were dreadfully cold and scared to start packing in the rain but we got along with it anyway. We tried to squeeze out the last few minutes of the poor WiFi network but it was not very successful. We checked out and started heading towards the central station in absolute pissing rain.

We bought a ten minute train ticket to Haarlem once we realized walking would take six hours (walking in that rain would have sucked we agreed). Just when we were settling in our train seats we had arrived, in mini Amsterdam – Haarlem. Walking out of the train station we ran into mean locals, mean rain and alleys full of very expensive candlelit restaurants.

Haarlem

Finally getting a consent in using their phone in one cafe (most businesses were quite rude), we were able to get in touch with our first couchsurfing host, Jacob. Having agreed to meet in two hours in front of Haarlem’s biggest church, St. Bavo, we were quickly in a hurry to find somewhere we could find shelter. We walked into  a hole-in-the-wall eatery and got ourselves a kipburger (chicken burger) for dirt price. While we tried to shiver off the cold a friendly local chatted with us and bought us a kroket (meat donut) – which was a definite highlight.

We headed out towards a market where we picked up a six-pack for Jacob and waited nervously where we had planned to meet. “It would be really sad if he saw us and just walked away”, we thought. “Well it is impossible to miss you guys”, we quickly heard a friendly voice behind our backs – it was Jacob! Jacob was a friendly guy, unhappy with his complacent friends with a crush on a chick living in Australia.

St. Bavo in Haarlem

He welcomed us into his place and after many beers and couple episodes of top gear we were able to happily fall asleep in dry warm couch.

Day 10

Utrecht’s park

By the time we woke up, Utrecht was hailing. Discouraged by the weather we decided to take a day off from walking and spend time downloading pictures, catching up on journaling and getting some rest.

Having planned to go out to a music bar at night called ‘T Oude Pthuys, Utrecht’s most famous music scene, we waited for Daaf to return while trying to get our blog set up. When he returned, he brought with him divine Indonesian food! We had talked extensively of food yesterday and had showed interest in the abundant amount of Indonesian restaurants in Netherlands (it is as common here as Thai food is in Seattle).

How kind of him to remember and extend his hospitality this far! We waited for Ben to arrive for his last meal at home before heading off to Germany and once he did, we devoured all the food like starved cows. It was the first taste of spice I had in days and it could not have tasted any better. We were so grateful and touched by Daaf’s kindness and promised to buy him a beer later tonight. When Daaf left to drop off Ben at his bus station we took care of some last minute computer business – we had sent out over twenty requests for couchsurfing in Rotterdam for the last couple of days and had not heard back from anyone. Getting nervous, we started searching for other options including camping and dormitory hostels.

After sending out more requests to Breda, the next possible destination, we layered up for the hour walk we had ahead of us to reach Pthuys. When we arrived at the door, we walked down a narrow brick stairway that could have easily been three to four hundred years old and entered through a small entrance located at the bottom. Pthuys was an absolutely beautiful place that seemed perfect for the Seattle scene. It felt like a cave, with its low ceilings and very intimate, unpolished environment. People leaned into each other over a candle, their only light source, situating themselves to view the small blue-lit stage.

After getting ourselves some very over-priced beers, we grabbed a corner table that was build in to the recess of the wall. By the time Daaf arrived to meet us, a jazz band had started playing, providing the perfect atmosphere for our continued conversation. He shared with us of his experiences in traveling and of his romantic tendencies, reading us all the love letters he had written for this girl who stole his heart back in Colorado. We talked about all the different methods of finding a place we could stay longterm and all about hitchhiking. He had so much valuable knowledge of where to look and how to start hitchhiking and told us how exhilarating it is when you finally reach your destination.

I know you can’t see much but this is the inside of Pthuys

His former girlfriend and himself had hitchhiked everywhere (she being an expert, it is her favorite method of transportation) including from Utrecht down to Paris in sixteen hours. It was so inspiring and made me determined to take on the challenge of hitchhiking during our adventure. When we shared our troubles in finding a couch in Rotterdam, he suggested we stay for another night with him! We gladly accepted, knowing that camping out in hail could have been an experience of its own. 

Around 1am we walked back to his car and continued our conversation about the Dutch culture and of the common holidays (St. Nicholas day, Queen’s day) and normal working hours (average of 38 hrs/wk and 21 paid days of holiday NOT including Christmas) of a European. It was so interesting to learn more about Holland and I just kept pestering him for more information until we reached his place. We ended up staying up until 3am sharing whiskey and talking about our life back in Washington.

Our candle lit table

I had always planned to travel the world through making relationships in the places I go, allowing the people to attract me to travel versus the things the countries are famous for. Everybody wants something different out of their journey and everybody has different intentions on doing so. Long time ago somebody asked me how I wanted to travel and I said that the reason is because I’m interested in the culture and lifestyle of the locals.

Obviously, seeing the beautiful monuments and the historical sites are always a plus – and in most cases, things to see are what initiates the travel. But above all, I wanted to be able to return home with friends, from all over the world. By the time we fell asleep close to dawn, I felt so lucky and grateful for my surfing experiences so far. It is truly the perfect way for me to see the world.  I would want nothing else but for this journey to continue the way it has been going.

Walked: 6 miles

Day 4

As soon as we woke up we headed into the bike rental shop to get ourselves set up for the day. We had planned to spend one whole day just biking around and outside Amsterdam and today was going to be that day.

We picked a route not popularly traveled and headed out on our rattly bikes. Our route consisted of Durgerdam – Uitdam – Marken – Zuiderwoude – Kanoverhuur – Broek in waterland – Fahre – Noorde – Pontveer – Centrum (central station) – road Mauritskade – Zeeburg. The dirtroads leading from one small town to the next could not have been any more beautiful – Dutch architecture surrounded by farm pasture stretching out into the distance.

Once we arrived back into downtown after the 50km bike ride, we had just enough time to visit the Anne Frank House, which was interesting but definitely not worth its ticket price. When we got back to our campground we were so exhausted that we went straight to bed after having some chocolate and beer.

Day 3

Early in the morning we got ready to see the rest of the city. We spent almost three hours at the Rijks that we had missed out on yesterday, thanked all the guards profusely and dragged our sore museum feet to the Van Gogh museum. Having picked up some postcards we headed into the center of town and had fries that could not have tasted any better (this was the first warm food we had since we left home).

We continued on to explore the rest of town including the red light district which turned out to be much cleaner compared to one in Seoul. I was curious to find out what ’24/7 live sex show’ might have been like and tried convincing Ashely to explore furthermore but he declined. Sad but hungry enough to be distracted by the idea of food, we headed over to the supermaket to pick up some food for the rest of the week (a loaf of bread and few slices of meat) and headed back to our tent.

We treated ourselves to a hot shower (that costed us 2.40 euro each at our campsite) then to a beer we split since, well, we are poor.

Day 22

Antwerp Station

We woke up at our own pace for the first time this week, showered and packed our bags to leave to Antwerpen. We said our goodbyes to Jef as he dropped us off at the train station, profusely thanking him for his extended generosity and feeding us like kings. He definitely fattened us good. I’m sure we will suffer from withdrawl – but nevertheless, it felt good to move on to our next destination.

Foggy Antwerp

We arrived at the Antwerpen station (rated to be 4th most beautiful train station in the world) and walked about town until it got closer to the time we had planned to meet our host.

Antwerp

Waiting nervously at the enormous station that must have had thousand doors, we were scared that they might miss us. As everyone walked passed us with places to go, we were able to spot a couple from a distance who looked as lost as we did. Indeed they were Mel and Francis, our Antwerpen host. They led us straight down to the underground station to take the train out to where they lived in town (which would have been a short walk) and reached their little aparment they had been living in for a year and a half.

Mel and Francis seemed a bit different from the hosts we have been used to – nice but way more reserved, shy and nervous. Mel barely said one word the entire walk to their apartment and Francis seemed busy avoiding our eye-contact. As we talked a little more with them we found out that they are a Dutch-American couple who met each other on the internet a little over two years ago and got married last year for her to move to Holland. Since then they have relocated themselves to Antwerpen where he pursues college education in Dutch/English while she stays home. The kids were barely 22 when they got married in the Amalfi coast off of Itay, after dating over the internet for one year. 

By the time we settled our things down next to a couch, each of them had resumed to their individual computing area where they got busy doing something on the internet. Two desks were put together, head to head, computer screens creating a wall between their ‘stations’.

We suggested to head into town for us to walk around town, which they nonchalantly agreed to. After about two hours of touring around the city (that went fine) they suggested us to dine out for dinner at their favorite Italian restaurant in town – which happened to be in dead center of tourist zone with an average meal costing 12 euro. We politely turned it down, mentioning that we were on a very tight budget but would love to help out with the groceries if they would be interested in dining in.

They also seemed to politely accept that idea, however refusing our suggested help on the grocery and mentioning, ‘so we can take the train here to go back home’. We said we would rather walk, as it only happens to be a half hour walk and it would also give us a chance to see more of the town as well as save money (the ten minute ride earlier costed us 3 euro). He reiterated a couple more times that it was ‘not that expensive, only a couple euro’ and eventually separated ways as we said to meet back at their place in the next hour (they took the train and we walked back).

Statue of Neptune in the distance

It was odd, it is really hard to describe the dynamic of what had happened so far. They seemed disgruntled to be hosting in general, however were the first ones to reach out to us when we were looking for a couch in Antwerpen. They didn’t seem to interact with each other or seemed much interested in interacting with us. They are a nice people but somehow seemed awkward and uncomfortable whenever we started a conversation with them. We had mentioned that we were on a tight budget multiple times since we had met, yet they kept insisting for us to do things that would cost money (dining out, sightseeing activities… etc). How were we going to get through this?

Becoming Lange Wapper, water spirit, in front of Antwerp castle

By the time we arrived back at their place, the two of them were once again at their computers, Francis slowing cutting away at garlic. We asked if we could help with their preparation, to wich he said to me, ‘I guess you can do the dishes’ (but as it turned out, these were not even the dishes they planned to use for dinner).

Two hours of sitting on their couch, blankly staring at their wall full of horror movies and books, dinner was ready and we finally got a chance to talk to them – their full attention with us. Despite our effort to make them laugh and start on a topic, the conversations kept dropping until the dinner table eventually got silent (if you’ve ever been in this situation, you’d know how painful it is). After dinner, I quickly suggested for us to watch a movie – my last attempt to make the night less awkward, to which we watched two movies then headed off to bed. I hope that they were just tense today and will open to us more tomorrow, we will see how that goes.

With statue of Ruebens

Day 9

Me indulging in Broodje Mario - a Utrecht specialty!

We woke up on Daaf’s air mattress situated in the living room around 9am when he left  for work. He has a very cozy place with some rugged aspects to it that made it seem like he was still in the process of settling in. After putting on as many layers as possible, we headed out into town that took about an hour.

Utrecht

On the way we came across several parks that were absolutely adorable (they have a mini zoo with dears and birds). I love Utrecht, it is just a bigger Haarlem and like Amsterdam without the obnoxious tourists. The streets are wide and people are scarce in the morning.

Deers in the Utrecht park - or in another words, a male deer in the shade with all his bitches under the sun

After walking around for five hours or so, we changed some money at Rabobank (the only bank that hasn’t got into trouble yet, owned by farmers) and headed into a small bar in front of the central museum for two-finger lenghth foamed Grolsh beer. Walking home we picked up a Surinamese sandwich and a Turkish doner to quickly avoid the rain then bravely continued home through the mean rain.

Surinamese sandwich

We spent hours chatting with Daaf’s American roommate Ben, being completely enchanted by his stories – He had lived abroad in Spain teaching English and pursued graduate school in Finland!? Ben cooked us delicious vegetarian dish made with cauliflower, potato and lentil that I devoured within minutes. By the time Daaf arrived home, Ben retired to his room to prepare for his ten day Germany trip with his new Czech girlfriend.

We talked late into the night with Daaf talking of relationships, couchsurfing and of America. He has made so many amazing friendships across America through couchsurfing! He told us of the lifetime friends he had made - of those he ended up spending Christmases with, almost would have married, went to weddings, couchsurfed with, went on vacations with and writing regularly to, from all over the world.

So called ‘basement restaurants’ - Utrecht is one of the only places where these could be found

Before he knew, the friendships he had made through couchsurfing had become most of his connections in life.  When talking about the different perceptions people have on traveling, Daaf told us of a friend visiting from the states – who had stayed in Holland for four weeks, never having talked to a single local person. She had been a part of some pub crawl where she was surrounded by her friends and other tourists and never cared to venture out from tourist zones to explore the real Holland.

Ten minutes of sunshine

It is pretty frustrating, we agreed, how so many Americans seemed to have such a solid perception about what Europeans are like when they actually have no experience in befriending a local or have even taken the time to have a real conversation. Most tourists end up never getting out of Amsterdam, thinking that is all there is to Holland. I guess it is easier to reach a nice conclusion about a group of strangers in a foreign country, purely off of what you see versus having to make a real friendship – I guess I had done something of that sort of the Americans when I first moved to America, with their over-saturated greetings and their habit of excessive hugging. People want to travel feeling that they had made some connection in the country they are visiting, although most people don’t make much effort to do so.

The thing about people is that they are just people, wherever you go. There is the good, the bad and everything in between.

The Dom tower

It’s interesting to me that so many people, when we were still back in the states, raved on for hours about how different everything and everyone was going to be, here in Europe. They are more kind, more genuine, more, more, more… The fact of the matter is, that no matter where in the world you are you still find all your stereotypes – the group of high-pitched Dutch airheads, the herd of young assholes that take up the entire sidewalk, the rude service-industry people (I can say this, I was a waitress for 8 years), the entitled poor, and mean people on rascals, the grouchy old racists, the ghetto, shitty drivers, the kind ones who will go out of their way to help you, the immediate friends that become lifetime company…

Walked: 12 miles

Inside the Dom cathedral

Day 7

Haarlem train station

We woke up around noon and started packing our things. I was already sad to leave Jacob behind. After watching a few episodes of National Geographic with him, it was time for us to leave for our next town, Utrecht. He gave us many hugs and told us to stay in touch throughout our journey so he could live vicariously through us.

Utrecht

Walking away from his little alley I felt a great sense of relief that our first Couchsurfing experience made us nothing but great friends. After trying to  squeeze out information from the mean information desk lady (it felt like she wanted us to die every time we asked a question) at the train station, we headed back to Amsterdam to transfer on to a train that will take us to Utrecht.

Standing under the Dom tower

We stepped out of the train station at Utrecht, to what felt like a bigger Haarlem, full of vibrant streets and shopping malls. Most stores were closed due to the fact that it was Sunday but we managed to reach a nearby hostel named Strowis, that rented us a private double for 60 euro (that is really as cheap as it gets, wow, lesson learned). We settled our stuff down in our room and took a long shower that operated by a push-button. It was a nice break though, from camping and Couchsurfing because it gave us a chance to freshen up, wash some laundry, use good steady internet and fully dry out our wet camping gear.

Our first hostel room @ Strowis

After being approached by a random missionary man from South Korea and his warnings of hell, we headed upstairs to get to bed early. Tomorrow will be the first full day here in Utrecht as well as the day we will meet our second Couchsurfing host, Daaf.

Walked: 3 miles